I would joke about "movie-licensed" video games, but Mad Max comes a year after the last movie in the franchise and has basically nothing to do with it. More than that, it's an actual good game - a quality not usually in movie video games - though you may not know this reading professional reviews. There's been something of a gulf between critic reviews and professional reviews of the game... Which I'm not going to get into, just a fair heads up if you go look it up on, say, Metacritic. I personally like the game, so let me explain why, along with what this thing is in case you missed the marketing campaign. Also keep in mind I've not seen any of the Mad Max movies.
Mad Max is an open-world third-person game with about an even split of vehicular and third-person action. It uses an "Arkham-like" fighting system when on foot, though admittedly with quite a few extended features on top of the standard formula. For vehicles, it uses a completely unique combat system - and yes, there is vehicular combat - with a heavy emphasis on ramming and a light emphasis on weapon combat. I'll get into this more in Gameplay, but suffice it to say that THIS is the game Carmageddon always wanted to be. Storywise, there isn't much of one. Max is mad (literally, in this case) and has it in his head that he has to cross the Plains of Silence. To do this, he needs the baddest of badass cars possible. There's more breadth to the plot than that, but there isn't much more depth. I'll get into that more under Story.
Primarily, this is an open world game in the most classic definition. It centres around side objectives, collectables and upgrades. At least this one is pretty honest about it.
Graphics and Design:
This game looks good and - more importantly - runs pretty well. It's a console port (which you can tell from a few bits and bobs), but it doesn't really feel like one. Console ports are notorious for running like garbage in PCs, and it wasn't too long ago that WB's own Batman: Arkham Knight was pulled from the Steam Store for being utterly broken on PC. Mad Max is the complete opposite. The game is incredibly well-optimised, it manages to maintain a solid 100+ FPS on my system with damn near everything cranked up to max and it it looks good doing it. The graphics are good on a technical level: high-poly models with good, crisp textures, a pretty long view distance (albeit obscured by heat haze in place of fog) and a number of "next gen" visual effects like ambient occlusion and "god rays" make their presence felt, but in subtle ways.
Not only that, but the Max Max as a pretty strong visual aesthetic, as well. The whole game - at least near as I can tell - is a sandy desert. A dried-up seabed, as a point of fact. And yet, there are still a lot of cool things to see - old coral reefs, previously underwater pipelines, an old warehouse, etc. Cliffs and rocky debris and wind-swept dunes, old rusted-out vehicles, half-buried fishing boats, a crashed plane on top of a cliff, oil rigs sitting tall on the ground - turns out there's A LOT you can do with "just a desert." Plus, said desert always feels alive. Enemy patrols roam the land and will harass you occasionally, you'll run across a burning car with dead bodies next to it, or wanderers lost in the sand begging for water. Sometimes it's as simple as two dudes chilling by their car, but OF COURSE they jump in to try and murder you as you drive past. Because Mad Max.
The world is pretty "gritty" and well on the "grim" side of things. This is not a happy "post-apocalypse." All the people are ugly, scarred, diseased and dressed in rags, when they aren't dead in cages, strung up on "scarecrows" or decomposing and crawling with maggots for you to eat to regain health (no, seriously). I'm personally not a huge fan of this art style, but at the very least I can say Mad Max does it well, and in creative fashion. It's always surprising, seeing how people have made a living out of the old world's remains. They take shelter in half-buried containers, inside the hulls of crashed planes, in caves and sometimes perched high up atop vertigo-inducing cliffs. And there's always a "toilet chair" somewhere on the premises, because of course.
Basically, the game's graphically pretty and aesthetically gritty.
Story and Characters:
I should note that I'm not all the way through the game yet - it's a great big stonkin' game. However, the story thus far is pretty simple: Max is Mad, in the sense of "insane." He used to have a wife and child, but the apocalypse took them from him. He's been surviving ever since pretty much on instinct alone, wishing for death but unable to give up. He has it in his head that the only way to find peace is to cross "the Planes of Silence." He was just on his way to doing this at the start of the game, but just needed a bit of extra fuel. Then he's attacked by the hordes of Lord Scrotus, his car and gear taken and Max left for dead. After a chance encounter with Chumbucket - an insane hunchback mechanic who sees him as the saint-driver ordained by the Angel Combustion - Max is back on the road with a rickety old rust bucker - the Magnum Opus and "Chum's" creation.
Essentially everything which passes for story from that point on focuses around upgrading the Magnum Opus. It's just a shell, let's get her a body. It has a V6 engine but Max wants a V8, but that's in Gastown. Before that, we need a machine shop, but that's in Jeet's lighthouse, so we need to do him a favour. To get to Gas Town we need to get through the "Jaw," but to do this we need armour, which is in another stronghold. We have armour, now we need a new jag tip for the harpoon to pull the gate down, and that's in the hands of so-and-so. Basically, Max sums up the plot in a throwaway line: "I need it, I go get it. What happens happens." Beyond the main plot are a zillion smaller plots to do with all of the collectables. Lord Scrotus' hordes threaten the land and the strongholds that Max resides in. Helping the strongholds grow and lowering the "threat" in the region (more on that under Gameplay) unlocks more upgrades for the car and more supplies for Max, as well as making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside - a rare feeling in this gritty post-apocalypse.
In terms of characters, the game has a scant few. You have Max - a former cop and man possessed, a demon behind the wheel of whom legends are told. Then there's Chumbucket - Max's "pet mechanic." He built - and still continues to build - the Magnum Opus. He's completely insane, seeing cars as a religion and Max as the prophet destined to drive his Magnum Opus to greatness. He's also a half-mutated hunchback whom everybody treats like garbage, and yet the little guy has an endearing quality to him. In this nasty grim-dark post-apocalyptic world, Chum's cheerful enthusiasm is a nice contrast. There are a number of other despicable, wretched characters whom Max must deal with, either by helping or by bashing their heads in, but they're supporting cast at best. Then there are the truly evil denizens of the world - the bad guys. They're all murderers, torturers and always with some kind of violent sexual fetish because... It's Mad Max, so of course.
There is a side plot to do with Max facing his inner demons and trying to regain his humanity, but I haven't gone through with that so I don't know where that leads. Max aside, though, this is an overall grim-dark world without any truly good people in it. There are plenty of "Historical Artefacts" which try to tell the tale of how the world fell, and they overwhelmingly focus on how savage people are turning as well as trying to make you feel depressed. It's a good thing the gameplay is a barrel of fun to cheer me up!
Gameplay and Systems:
Gameplay breaks down into the three general systems of Car Combat, Ground Combat and the catch-all of "Scavenging."
Ground combat works like in your standard Arkham-style game, by which I mean you punch with the left mouse button and guard with the right mouse button when you see a prompt. You have your standard enemies, knife enemies, shield enemies, etc., but there's a lot more diversity than what you'd expect. For starters, you need to actually counter-attack after parrying, else the enemy just gets shoved away. This matters, because Max is able to follow-up some parries with devastating attacks. The game also has heavy attacks accomplished by holding down the button, which can serve as combo finishers, guard breakers and so on. Batman's instant combo takedowns are replaced by Shiv Executions, using up one of a VERY small number of fragile shivs you can carry, but you can "shiv" people in a lot more situations. "Wall slam" attacks are particularly satisfying, when you shove an enemy into a wall. Melee weapons exist, as well, requiring their own unique parry mechanic. Most satisfying of all, Max can enter "Fury Mode" where his attacks become much more powerful and he has a tendency to German supplex people and deliver ridiculous piledrivers. It's actually quite glorious. Ground combat may seem simple, but there's a lot more to it than critics would have you believe.
Car combat is where it's at, though, as this is easily the BEST high-speed vehicular warfare has ever been. You can nitro-boost to ram enemies, but this is easily the least practical way to fight. For the most part, the AI cars will match your speed and try to ram you from the side or box you in. You have a "side swipe" move which essentially causes your car to sidestep and slam into the enemy, causing considerable damage. If the enemy has "boarders," they can jump onto your car, so make sure to install spikes! Side-facing flamethrowers and shredders allow you to grind into your enemies for extra damage, but that's not even half of it. Max has a short-range shotgun with which to shoot the gas tanks and wheels off of vehicles or - if you feel like it - the driver. But shotgun ammo is scarce and some vehicles are armoured, which is where Chum's harpoon comes into play. It can latch onto enemy vehicles so you can "boost" into them, pull armour, doors, wheels and even drivers off of vehicles, sometimes even pull down stationary structures. And all of this - ALL of it - is done while driving down the road at top speed. None of those Carmageddon stationary melees - you get nothing accomplished that way.
Finally, you have Scavenging, which I used to as a catch-all for all the Overworld activities. The primary and most numerous activities are "scavenging locations" where you can find scrap - the game's currency - as well as important parts. Everywhere you go, Lord Scrotus' hordes are running rampant. You need to destroy their convoys, blow up their camps, kill their snipers and so on to lower the threat in the region. Lower threat means more car upgrades. Then there are the races - plenty of those about. You race for cars and upgrade tokens, near as I can tell. Sometimes an enemy camp will contain a "top dog" to kill in a boss fight in return for a paintjob for your car. You can help upgrade the various strongholds you take shelter in, so that they refill your ammo, your water, your health, your fuel, etc. Occasionally you'll run into really dangerous dust storms, but those often blow around crates packed full of scrap. Occasionally you may run into a "scrapulance" - a truck carrying tons of scrap. Pull out the driver, run him over for good measure, drive the truck back to the camp, you earn the scrap. Everything, in one way or another, builds up to upgrading your car and making you even tougher.
One thing I want to note about upgrades - you have three systems of upgrades. First is your garage where you upgrade your car, and not all of those upgrades are linear. A better engine might give you acceleration, but it reduces traction. Better tyres may not be better on all terrains. More armour protects your car but slows it down. Flamethrowers are powerful but drain your fuel, etc. Secondly, you have your "Max" section where you can upgrade Max's gear - armour, knuckles, toos, beard, etc. This is also where you unlock combat moves, as well. Max's upgrades are locked behind his "Legendary" status - a level-up system for doing in-game challenges. Finally, there's "Griffa," the wanderer. Speaking with him unlocks Max's hidden strength, giving passive bonuses, usually having to do with efficiency - find more scrap, find more ammo, consume less fuel when driving, heal more from food, etc. All told, there's a LOT of upgrading to be had.
Honestly, Mad Max is a tremendously fun game, but it's not for everybody. TotalBiscuit described it as "Open World Game: The Open World Game" and he's not wrong. There's very little "substance" to Mad Max - very little story or plot, very little in the way of a main goal (get a V8 engine) and fairly little depth of complexity. However, it's a completionist's wet dream (or nightmare, depending on your perspective) as there is SOOO much to do. Camps, scarecrows, snipers, minefields, scavenging locations, side missions, races in territory after territory after territory. I remember being at the game for a few hours looking at the map and thinking "OK, I did three out of 20 things in this one territory out of 7 in this one sector of the map out of like 5." To some that might be depressing. To me it's just fun. Whether you like Mad Max or not comes down to just how much you like clearing a large map of collectable stuff. It turns out I like it a lot.
Get Mad Max if you enjoy unobtrusive open-world games which will give you a general goal but not really try to direct your experience much. It's great for that. Every so often your supporting character will ask you to get back on track but if you want to scour the land for every bit of scrap you can find - go for it. I'd also recommend Mad Max if you like collectables. There's a TON of those - collectable vehicles, collectable hood ornaments, collectable paintjobs, collectable lore scraps, collectable cars... There's a lot to collect. Obviously, I'd also recommend the game to anyone who enjoys a new take on vehicular combat, as Mad Max's is unrivalled... Though it takes some getting used to. Most car games have taught you to play Destruction Derby. This game teaches you to do it Mad Max style!
However, if you're interested in a deep, engaging narrative experience then don't bother. Mad Max doesn't have one. It keeps pretending to, in the fairly rare cutscenes, but it's an open-world game and proud of it. Your goal? Do whatever it takes to upgrade your car. It's no more complex than that. If this isn't enough for you, Mad Max may be wrong for your tastes. I'd also avoid the game if you expect tangible rewards for your effort. Scouring salvage locations for scrap is fun in itself, but when each pick-up gives you, like, 5 Scrap and you need 900 for that ramming grill, it might seem pointless. There are indeed better ways to gain scrap (dust storms and the Salvage Crew upgrade in strongholds), so the collection aspect may feel hollow - which it is. Finally, if you're not a fan of repetition, STAY AWAY from Mad Max. This game has a lot of different kinds of activities, but you WILL end up doing the same thing over and over again. They're always in unique, interesting locations but it's mostly doing the same things. Avoid if you don't enjoy it.
For me personally? It's already worth the 50 Euro I paid for it. I'd meant to preorder XCOM 2, but that isn't coming out till February and I didn't want to tie my money down for it so soon when I could have Mad Max, instead. I don't regret my purchase one bit - it's a damn good game if you're into that sort of thing.